|Newspaper Title||Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||A Life's Punishment|
No seed to fasten The Don to a post now ! I slipped from my saddle, let the reins fall on the ground, stayed an instant to slacken the saddle girths, and then attacked the doctor's door. He came at once. He knew me, having been at Pamatta betore, and listened to what I told him. But I believe he was thinking more about my horse. He had gone outside, and was standing looking at him as I told about Mrs. Hardinge.
The Don looked completely done. He stood with his bead hanging down, his leg? apart, and trembling. His chest and flanks heaved with convulsive breathing, and the sweat dripped from his fetlocks, making little puddles of moisture in the dust. His eyeB had lost all their brightness and fire, and were filled with that anxious, distressed look so noticeable in the eye of a horse that iB thoroughly exhausted.
Almost the first words the doctor spoke to me were instructions as to the proper thing to do for The Don's comfort as soon as I could get him to the public-house stables. Then he told me that he should start at once for Pamatta, and added that I must await his return in case there was anything to be
He was as good as his word. Before I had finished superintending the oBtler's care of Don the doctor passed down the street at a smart canter. He had seen something of bush life before he had gone home to study medicine, and now aB a bush doctor his ex perience stood him in good stead.
He rode well, and there was hardly a soli tary shepherd's or boundary rider'rf hut any where within a radius of 50 miles that ne could not find. One thing upon which he greatly prided himself was his faculty for finding his way at night across country straight to the point at which he wished to arrive. Tracks he scorned, and the difficulty of wire fences he overcame by carrying a strap with which to tie down the wires, and by having his horses taught to jnmp after him. The route he would take to Pamatta would be four or five miles Bhorter than the one I had come.
~ The day passed slowly away. There was nothing to interest me in the town, nor, if there had been, was I in_a fit state of mind to take notice of it. Waiting for the doctor's return was a dnll and anxious time. I was tired and fagged after the 30-mile ride. The distance was not so great, bat ithe pace had been a tiring one, I waB unable to reBt in any one place for many minutes at a time, but roamed alternately from the public-house
to the stable.
It was not until an hour or two had elapsed since my arrival that Don began to show signs of recovery. It had been too fast and far a ride [for a horse just taken off the grasB. The OBtler cleaned him down well and rubbed him dry. Bran and chaff and oats were placed before him, and when he had cooled down water waB given to him. He drank greediljr, but tossed his food about with his nose without eating it. Then a happy thought occurred to the ostler that Don being a station horse was unac customed to a stable, and would feel more at home in the stockyard, and so it proved.
The first tbiDg he did was to lie down and loll in the dust from side to side, and then roBe and shook himself. That did him good, and when biB food was brought out to him he deigned to eat it.
To bang about the yard, to amoks and yarn with the ostler, and now and then to go up to Don to talk to him and pat him, wae a pleasanter way of spending the time than inside the public-house. The painter who wrote the name upon itB wall had dubbed it "Hotel," but as a matter of fast it was nothing more than a drinking shop. Proper hotel business was considered unpro fitable. The landlord had no desire to give people either good food or lodging. It was the sale of drink that brought in most money, and the lower class of shearer and bushman as long as they had a good-sized cheque were the patrons he catered for. When once they commenced to drink the good hoBt was happy. He blended and doctored his Honors so artfully that it required bat a small quantity to deprive a man of all reasoning power, and indeed of all intellect also. In that state all food, with the exception of hot piokleB, sances, and very salt beef, was dietastfnl to them. And as for beds, why they were an unsafe institution for drunken men. Cases were known where men had fallen out of them during the night and had sustained various breakages of limbs. It was far safer to let them lie upon the floor, in the stable, out in the yard, or anywhere the muddled and besotted fancieB of the drinkers might incline them.
There was bnt one " pub" in Yelta town ship, and its landlord profited by the mono poly. On thiB day the bar was doing a roar ing trade—literally. Shearers and shed hands bad been discharged from many stations in the surrounding district, and had come in to the township to have " a good time." The sounds of shouting, swearing, ribald songs, and hoarse voices raised in anger or ghastly mirth fell upon my ear as I watched my horse quietly munching his food. It grated harshly upon me, there was Buch depravity in the sound, and it was so out of harmony with the beauty of the scene around
Long before there was any likelihood of the doctor's return I began to watch for his appearance on the road. Dinner, such aa it was, came at noon, and I sat down to it. I had had no breakfast, and my appetite was sufficiently keen to overcome the disgust I felt at the appearance of the meal set npon the table and of some of the diners seated round it.
The afternoon dragged out its slow length; the sun went down and darkneBB came on with the rapidity usual in those latitudes. Tea or supper was served in the " pub," but I would not go in. One meal there was enough for me. At last the doctor came. Mrs. Hardinge had an attack of brain fever, but was not in any great danger. Some things had to be taken borne for her.
I had tea with the doctor, and he pressed me to stay the night. But this I declined to do. I was sick to death almost of the town, and I conld see that he was dog tired after his ride. But as there was no imme diate hurry I stayed chatting and smoking until 9 o'clock. Paying my bill, ana satisfying the ostler to his heart's desire for his care of Don, 1 was soon on my homeward journey. Poor Don was stiff and lame a little at first, but this wore off as we went along. But there was no galloping now. I rarely put him ont of a walk. I don't think I could have sat a faster pace myself. I was beginning to feel tired, and several times caught myself dozing in my saddle.
During the following day when talking to HardiDge I told him how Mrs. Hardinge bad fancied my voice resembled that of a friend of hers she had lost, and then he told how she had been fretting and worrying abont this for some time. " Of course," con tinued Hardinge, " I knew it was all fancy. The person she was thinking of was drowned years ago. There was no doubt about that, and between ourselves a good thing too. He was not of much account. Did some thing shady, you know, in business. But I must admit that even I noticed a similarity of tone in your voice to his. Curious, ne doubt, but not so uncommon perhaps as one might think."
This was my first experience of the saying that "listeners hear no good of themselves.''
Mary lay ill for many weeks. When she did take a turn for the better her recovery was exceedingly slow. It was seldom now that McPherson or I went up to the house. The doctor bad ordered complete quiet and rest for bis patient.
Walter had taken up bis quarters with us, much to my delight. Hardinge had asked me to instruct him in the mysteries of double entry. How swiftly passed the hours of work in that office now compared to what they had once done. Walter was with me all day long, and I do think that I managed to make the work pleasant for him. But besides book keeping and ordinary station work there were other things on hand. Some time before I came up to Pamatta, Hardinge had been told of some good country lying away far in the
interior. When in Adelaide last he had secured a preferential lease of a large block somewhere abont the desired locality, and it was now necessary to send out a party to explore it and define the boundaries. This subject had been discussed hundreds of timeB, together with the formation of the party. McPherson was to be the leader—no better one could have been choBen; the other men, three in number, had also been thought of. But about this time another claimed, or rather entreated, to be allowed to go with them—this was Walter !
The idea of going away into strange and unknown country, where hardly a white man bad ever trod, had aroused his imagination
to a high pitch. Hardinge at first was against j the idea, thinking the boy too young, and that he might knock np and so hinder McPberson's progress. But at last the boy's entreaties moved him, and he promised to think about it. I knew, and so did every one, that that was tantamount to consent. The boy would go, and I should be left desolate as it were; it was not likely, nor perhaps very desirable for her sake, that I should again see much of Mary.
I must be one of the party—1 felt that most decidedly. I was not a bushman in the full meaning of the term; but that I could endure exposure and fatigne aa well as any of them I was certain. I made the proposal to Hardinge, but he was not at all inclined to entertain it seriously. But when I suggested that I should devote myself to taking care of Walter, and that in the event of hia falling ill could nurse him and bring
him home without delaying McPherson, I j won the day. Hardinge consented, and Walter was as mnch pleased with the arrangement as I was.
Summer was drawing rapidly to a close, and we had to prepare hurriedly, so as to take advantage of the first rains. We should be certain to meet with belts of waterless country, and the winter months were the only oneB during which such a journey might be attempted.
One of the under-overseers would take McPherEon's place, a clerk could be easily got in my stead, and it waB probable that Har
diuge would take bis family to town ub soon as Mary waB able for the journey. And so we eet busily to work upon our preparations.